Burgundy Brixx, Vancouver’s burlesque queen, talks mentorship, Kitty Nights, Canadian immigration, and advice for traveling the festival circuit.
For the complete interview and more beautiful exclusive images of Burgundy, pick up your Winter 2013 Best of Pin Curl print edition, available mid-December here!
Interview: Shoshana Portnoy
Q: You explained in an interview that when you moved from Boston to New York City in 1998, you didn’t know what burlesque was until you stumbled across a listing on Craigslist for the New York School of Burlesque and before long, Jo Weldon, you enrolled as a student and Jo became your mentor. Can you share with our readers a little about that relationship between mentor and student, and the importance of having a mentor? What are three things you learned early on that you attribute to that relationship?
A: To be honest, I don’t think I ever officially asked Jo permission to officially call her my mentor, but we fell very naturally into a wonderful relationship that was based in mutual respect. Jo was always as generous with her advice and replies to my questions, as she was very encouraging of my early work, and continues to be an invaluable resource and friend in this stage of my burlesque life. She made performance opportunities available to me very early on that I would never have gotten on my own at that stage, and introduced me to many of the major players of the NYC burlesque community in an enormously welcoming way. Having the opportunity to perform so often with top-level performers at the beginning of my burlesque journey was invaluable to my early development as a burlesque artist.
Q: You mentioned in the BurlesqueStars.net interview that at one point you thought Kitty Nights Vancouver had plateaued, and since many new shows had come onto the scene there, you thought it might be time to close the doors, saying “Maybe we’ve served our purpose”. What is your #1 purpose with your showcase? What do you think the Kitty Nights show offers that other Vancouver shows don’t? What’s the secret to the super long successful run?
A: While there are numerous other regular shows in Vancouver now, most of them are still troupe-based. Kitty Nights still remains as one of the only shows in town that is a crossroads for performers of all different troupes, which means each week is always exciting for both the audience and for me. You never know what you might see each week, and I think that really appeals to people’s sense of delight. I work hard to book a diverse selection of performers in every show. And the as the quality of Vancouver’s performers has grown, that is reflected in the continued quality of Kitty Nights. The format of the show is effective, my husband is an amazing host, our DJ (currently the effervescent Cherry OnTop) keeps the party rolling after the show and I work hard to respect my performers both personally and financially. Keeping the outreach to new audiences is hard work, which is no secret, but something many people may not see. My daily burlesque life is filled with more graphic design, promotion and administration than with creative pursuits related to my performances which I would love to have take priority someday.
Over the last three years BurlyCon has taken the top spot in my list of burlesque events to attend… and not just because I can wear my yoga pants the entire weekend. The affair offers a unique opportunity to focus entirely on development and networking. The event is open to all interested participants, regardless of role or experience, and draws a hugely diverse crowd from across the country and beyond. The result is an inclusive, immersive experience that is unparalleled in our community. It is burlesque sensory overload… in a good way. Imagine I am Scrooge McDuck and my vault is full of strippers. BurlyCon is a deep dive and backstroke swim through that sea of striptease. All that fun and friendship builds a warm and fuzzy barrier against the brisk Seattle air (I tell myself as I sprint across four lanes of airport traffic in booty shorts and a t-shirt). I return every year with even higher expectations than the last, and this year’s experience did not disappoint.
I arrived a day early and decided to explore the town. Of particular interest to me were a number of local burlesque productions, some featuring out-of-town talent. I opted for the Cast-Off Cabaret since it included guest performances from some of my East-coast burlesque family. I have experienced tastes of the Seattle burlesque scene at festivals throughout the country, but this was my first chance to actually see Seattle performers on a Seattle stage. The show included a variety of performance styles and talents including live singing, silk fan dances, deadpan comedy, performance art, belly dance, traditional striptease, and (for good measure) crustacean twerking.
The highlight of the show was the beautiful and elegant performance of The Paris Original and his ballet telling of the life of coral. He is a walking (or in this case pirouetting) dichotomy. He performs a conservative art form with a liberal interpretation. He has masculine strength and feminine grace. He is technically proficient but also raw and emotional. Every single thing about his performance was en pointe. (Get it? It’s a ballet joke.) He was beautiful, sensual, sensitive, and sexy as hell… a perfect finale to the show. A rousing ovation ensued. After a quick chat with the cast, my roommates and I headed home to rest up for the busy weekend ahead.
Thursday was the big day. The glitter tribe was arriving. My walk to registration was interrupted countless times with introductions, reunions, and general squeals of excitement. Once I finally focused on the task at hand, I obtained my badge and backpack. It was official – BurlyCon had begun. I rushed to an empty corner to review the final class listing and strategize a schedule. This is always a daunting task as there are so many amazing course offerings available. I always try to choose a schedule that balances class type (movement, lecture, etc.) and subject matter. This year’s guide made that a breeze, utilizing a system of symbols to identify basic class information quickly without having to read through the written descriptions. I outlined my day and jumped enthusiastically into the learning process, taking classes during all available timeslots.
I always try to choose at least one class that will push me outside of my comfort zone. This year that class was Friday morning’s “Intro to Chair Dance” with the beautiful and talented Lola Frost. As someone that identifies as a comedic burlesquer, performing dances that focus on sensual movements makes me feel vulnerable onstage. Lola’s class took what I felt was intimidating subject matter and made it attainable for any student. The base movements were simple enough for a novice, and alterations were demonstrated to increase the difficulty for more seasoned performers. The movements were not physically difficult to perform, but displayed strength and control. The early timeslot was great for waking the body and mind after a long night of social events (and in some cases, alcohol consumption).
My favorite class of the weekend was “This Class Goes to 11!” by Iva Handfull. The class was exactly what I would expect from the instructor: unique, high-energy, entertaining, bad-ass, rock ‘n roll amazingness. After a video voyage through Iva’s personal inspirations (ranging from pop icons Michael Jackson and Prince to 80’s hair metal legends Mötley Crüe) the class warmed up their inner “front man” with a little Bonnie Tyler sing along. All of my drunken karaoke experiences combined didn’t equal the magnitude of this raucous rendition. Brows were furrowed, fists were pumped, and folks were turnin’ around as far as my bright eyes could see. Later we learned a choreographed rock-inspired routine to Guns and Roses’ “Paradise City”. The room was so packed with attendees that the whole group could not learn the steps at one time. We broke into small groups instead and performed for the rest of the class, an unintentional yet completely appropriate built-in concert audience. The class ended with a Soul Train-style pelvic thrust improvisation strut across the room, to the speaker-thumping soundscape of The Revolting Cock’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”. Each attendee took home a “What Would Iva Do?” wristband to commemorate the experience. I’m never taking mine off!
Friday night was wrapped up by the social event of the season: Burly Prom! It was everything I hoped it would be. The hair was big and the wardrobe was flashy. Light bounced off sequin appliqués and metallic lamé ruffles from every corner of the room. The music selection was straight from a John Hughes movie and the dance floor was always full. The event was complete with a tinsel-draped photo background and a line of eagerly-waiting corsaged customers who took turns posing awkwardly in true teenage style. Go-Go podiums were available for extrovert attendees to showcase their dancing skills, and both were often inhabited by con-favorite Rand The Vampire and his beautiful feather boa fans. Just like my real prom, attendees scattered off to various hotel rooms for a little post-prom debauchery that lasted into the wee hours of the night.
Saturday I tried my hardest to summon my inner twenty something and breeze through an early class like the night before hadn’t happened. A little Hospitality Suite breakfast and a lot of caffeine went a long way and I managed another complete day of classes. I also devoted some time to one of the other wonders of BurlyCon: The Vendor Fair. I have to admit, I went back through the vendor space every time the opportunity presented itself. There was so much amazing stuff to look at! I noticed something new in each visit. My wallet is quite a bit lighter, but I have a lot to show for it. My booty is geekier, my eyes are glitterier, my make-up is organized, and lack of pasties is a problem I will never have. I also paid a visit to the upstairs vendors, which included the shimmer-laden suite of Xerion Skin Science and Atomic Cosmetics. Dr. Jen is amazingly intelligent and so very personable. She takes a moment to speak with each customer about their wants and needs and offers them expert recommendations based on her intimate knowledge of the products. A bathtub full of champagne doesn’t hurt the ambience either.
The highlight of my Saturday would have to be the final session of Peer Reviews. Notable performances included Lola LeSoleil (Atlanta, GA) whose fringe-filled shimmy strut brought the audience to its feet and Deanna Danger (Richmond, VA) who was caught “red handed” dancing her way through a cover of Nick Cave’s “Right Red Hand”. My favorite performance of the night was that of Sunny Sighed and Bal’d Lightning (Baltimore, MD) who gave us a lesson on taming an audience with live song, dance, and striptease. Having performed for peer reviews in the past, I can tell you that being face to face with your idols in a fluorescent-lit conference room is an intimidating environment for performance. These intimate conditions worked in this act’s favor, however, providing the perfect playground for audience interaction. After getting up close and VERY personal with a lucky peer in the front row (Growl!), Sunny Sighed was lulled back into song at Bal’d Lightning’s intense insistence. The final reveal of Sunny’s unrequited longing for Bal’d Lightning solicited a mass “Awww!” from the audience and solidified their place in my heart. Sunny Sighed and Bal’d Lightning are talented, beautiful, and entertaining. I love seeing unique, genre-blending burlesque and this team brought it in full force.
Saturday night wrapped up with a popcorn-powered pajama movie party, the perfect event for people who are too exhausted to continue drinking or dancing but still wanted to spend every available second with their burlesque buddies. Those that weren’t in the mood for cinema could be found forced into the hotel’s outdoor hot tub, twenty at a time.
Sunday saw the final four class sessions and the launch of ticket sales for next year’s event. Twenty lucky so-and-sos were able to purchase a 2014 weekend pass for a mere 100 dollars!
The weekend was sadly coming to an end and the associated emotions were tangible. All those feelings culminated in the annual BurlyCon Closing Ceremony. This important experience gave opportunities to say goodbye to friends old and new and bond intimately with others over the shared love of the art-form that is burlesque. There were laughs. There were tears. There were indiscriminate hugs. Then, just like that, BurlyCon 2013 was over.
I made my way back to my room to pack up and head home. It had been an amazing weekend. I was exhausted, but excited. Each year I have attended I have become a better performer and a better mentor to my troupe-mates back home. I couldn’t wait to get back home and apply all the new things I had learned. My sass tank was full. I had enough inspiration to get me through another year… until we meet up again and start all over at BurlyCon 2014!
We couldn’t think of anyone’s advice we’d rather take than Miss Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Founder of the New York School of Burlesque and author of The Burlesque Handbook, which is why we’re thrilled to have her as our Burlesque Etiquette contributor! Have a question you’d like Jo to answer? Please title your email “Etiquette- _your issue___” and send to editor [at] PinCurlMag [dot] com and we will send them right over to her!
Have you ever wanted to distribute flyers at a show, and asked the producer if it was okay and been assured it was, only to find out later that the venue was annoyed because they were also having a burlesque show that night?
Sharing resources such as venues, marketing, skills, ideas, and knowledge is an important part of community, and it can be difficult to know the difference between when you are simply taking someone’s resources and infringing on their work. Often, it’s a simple matter of putting yourself in their shoes, but on occasion you simply must ask. The examples below are intended more as food for thought than as hard and fast guidelines.
Many times, I have seen–or have been in–painful situations that could have been easily avoided by simply asking a direct question of the person(s) involved, rather than indirectly asking around (which is sometimes necessary for clarity about the question you want to ask, but is never the same as directly asking the person affected) or otherwise second-guessing how the person might respond.
Most of the time the only reason to ask is because of the relationship you hope to maintain. These are not often issues of copyright law or trademark infringement. You can follow the letter of the law rather than the intention of the law and do as you like, but that is one of the weakest defenses I know. It won’t help your relationship with a person or a community at all.
Keep in mind, you only need to ask if you value your relationship with this person and your integrity, real or perceived, within the community you share. And you must decide before asking how you will respond if you get an answer you don’t want to hear. They may be inappropriately proprietary, controlling, and egotistical, and your request may have been merely a matter of form when you knew you weren’t doing anything wrong but were just paying your respects. Know what to do if the person turns out to be an asshole, what to do if you turn out to be an asshole, and what to do if you end up feeling foolish, hurt, or terribly frustrated that you can’t do what you want without complications. Most importantly, know what to do if you get a response that, even though it wasn’t what you wanted to hear, was given from the heart. If you give them the impression that by asking you intend to honor their response, then honor it. That is the soul of integrity.
Good times to ask:
If you want to have a show in the same venue as another producer. This may be up to the venue owner, rather than the producer. The venue owner is the real authority here, and few producers have exclusives with given venues. But if you value your relationship with that producer, it may be a good idea to ask. If there are already a lot of burlesque shows with different producers there, it is probably unnecessary to ask, but the producer will still feel respected if you do ask.
If you want to use the same music as another performer. As the venue is owned by the venue owner, the music is actually owned by the people who hold the copyright, not the performer. If it’s a popular piece of music such as Night Train or Bumps N Grinds, it’s obviously fair game. But if someone you know and respect has a signature piece to that music, or has obviously invested a lot in it, and you are likely to perform in the same circles, think twice. You are by all means entitled to use it– if you are frequently going to be in the same show, do you want to be constantly negotiating who will be using “Pour Some Sugar On Me” on any given night?
If you want to use or teach a move a burlesque instructor taught you in one of your numbers or in a class you teach. It’s usually not an issue if you incorporate the move into a performance– you bought the class, and there’s not much point in taking a class if you can’t use what you learn there The the source might be recognizable to other burlesque performers and devoted fan, but how that is usually fine. As for teaching it yourself, it depends on how common the technique is. Maybe they didn’t invent the Breakfast Bump N Grind (I learned it from Bambi Jones), and you could have learned it anywhere. But you didn’t; you learned it from them. And even though it may have been around for generations before they were alive (and it also may not have been), you don’t know if their choreography breakdown, teaching technique, and terminology originated with them. Whenever I want to incorporate moves from another instructor, I ask that instructor to make sure there’s no conflict of interest, and I credit them in class. It’s not enough to just assume it will be okay credit them in class–I find out how they feel about it. I have plenty of resources to come up with other material if they are feeling sensitive or proprietary about having their material taught by someone else.
If you want to use a photo. Any photo you find on the internet is owed by someone, and if you use it without permission, you are violating their copyright. I know it’s maddening when people don’t turn in their photos when you request them, but a found photo may not even belong to that performer–it may be the property of the photographer. Yes, the internet is changing the way we understand distribution and copyright, but it’s still a matter of respect.
If you want to use forms, disclaimers, sentences, descriptions, or other business you found on a website. These things are hard to write, may have been vetted by a lawyer at the site owner’s expense, and explain the structures of their business, which was probably carefully crafted with great entrepreneurialism. Business writing doesn’t just spring out of thin air. Just because it’s not “art” doesn’t mean there’s no process of creation. And it too is copyrighted material.
If you want to create a tribute number. Your intentions are probably nothing but honorable: you want to show appreciation for this performer and let the world see what they’ve done. However, almost all performers would rather perform than have a tribute to them performed; many of them worked hard to create a distinctive number. If you are planning to tribute them, there are certainly circumstances under which a surprise tribute could be a beautiful gift; but if you’re not sure, ask. And ask them, not their friends. And ask them twice, once to bring up the subject and again later to make sure they were honest with themselves and with you in the moment.
If you could have found information is easily accessible on the website, application, etc. It’s a lot of work to put those sites together, and disrespectful to ignore their work. You may just need some human contact, or the site may be difficult to negotiate; it is okay to let them know you at least looked for the information, and acknowledge that you tried to avoid taking their time.
For an exception to rules which are essential to the operation of a given show or business. Most of the time these rules are intended to smooth out and hasten production, not just to be bossy over performers. Being low maintenance is one of the key ways to get asked back.
If you can do a version of their number (usually described as “with your own twist”) or use their signature gimmick or prop. Seriously, no. You may not know whether or not they were the first to do it, or how much it has been associated with them. Copyright isn’t always the relevant issue. If you just want to steal the applause they get in that moment, you didn’t have a creative desire to incorporate it your way with a twist; you just want that applause. Think hard about this one.
If a person can give you free business counsel via email. Sometimes you have mentor/mentee chemistry with someone, or are just looking for hints or a link or two, and that’s cool. But if you don’t, you’re asking for hours of their time for no benefit to them.
If a person of color is okay with you doing a culturally appropriative act. There’s a ton of information on the internet about such things; you need to make your own informed decision without putting anyone in the position of representing their entire culture.
These are just a few very common examples. There are more complex situations, to be sure. If you find yourself in one, the best way to approach it is: just ask.
Want to see more of Jo’s columns? See: Sponsorship for Beginners, Like a Boss: The Harem Trope, Teacher/Student Dos and Don’ts, These Children That You Spit On: Established Performer to New Performer Etiquette, Stage Kitten Etiquette, Making Introductions: Emcee Etiquette, Photos & Pasties, How to Annoy Producers, How to Annoy Performers, I’m Just Saying, Headliner Etiquette – Part 1, Social Media Etiquette for Nearly Naked People
At BurlyCon 2013 I had the honor of teaching a class called “How to Mix and Mingle with your Adoring Fans.” I love to socialize with my audience and this makes me a “Socialite Stripper.”
Mingling with your audience post-show can not only be a valuable marketing tactic, it can sometimes be part of your contract for a special event. It’s a wonderful skill to have in your beyond-the-stage toolkit.
Some highlights I can share today are:
- Use the opportunity to reinforce who you are to the audience members by sharing a business card or future show flyer with those who approach you.
- Talking with the audience after a show and taking pictures with them extends the showgirl/showboy experience for a fan beyond the stage show. Often leaving them with a delightful “I got to meet the dancer” feeling and winning their hearts.
- Accept compliments with an open heart. A compliment is just as much about a person’s desire to muster up the kind words and deliver them to you as it is about you yourself.
- Be patient: Your audience is often more intoxicated than you are. This can lead to all kinds of skill needed to navigate your fancy self amongst a sea of tipsy fans.
You can learn more about me here at my website as well as links to all of my social networks and favorite endeavors.
Portland’s Tana the Tattooed Lady, Miss Tiki Oasis 2013, talks El Vez, Robocop 2, Yogatease and being a “lunatic drag queen.”
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: First off, congratulations are in order! You were recently voted Miss Tiki Oasis 2013; how exciting! Please share with us your experience at this year’s Tiki Oasis.
A: This year’s Tiki Oasis was the most magical year ever. It was so fun to connect with all my friends & play in the San Diego sunshine. 2013 marked the first annual Miss Tiki Oasis Pageant, a beauty contest of sorts to represent Tiki Oasis all year long. I was in total shock when they announced my name as the winner. My dear friend & fellow devoted Tiki-goer Meghan Mayhem (with whom I moved to Portland in 2007 after stealing her from Honolulu) handed me my GIANT trophy with all the appropriate cheekiness. Being crowned Miss Tiki Oasis gave me such confidence I felt like I could chat with everybody. What a fun feeling to be so popular. Southern Culture on the Skids- one of my all time favorite bands- played Saturday night before the midnight burlesque show. I was shaking and bopping so hard in the crowd I almost rocked my beehive loose. I also got to teach a custom stretching class Saturday morning set to the lounge sounds of Cal Tjader. Then to cap off the most wonderful weekend of good vibes I played a special Hawaiian Elvis set with El Vez! He even had me sing a solo song while he changed into his tiger suit. Afterward I found out that Mary from Southern Culture on the Skids was in the audience and thought that I’d done Wanda Jackson proud with my rendition of Let’s Have A Party! AND THEN… I met Exene (from the legendary punk band X) who told me she loves what I do & would like to use me for a web series she’s doing.
Q: Let’s talk about your performances with El Vez. How long have you been performing with him? You’ve toured with him too, multiple times right? I’d love to hear some of your favorite stories about that!
A: I’ve been an Elvette for nearly nine years. More recently El Vez and I have been performing new material together as a duo act. But don’t get me wrong, nobody outshines Robert Lopez. We were just in Austin, Texas last month performing his new soul show. That was a lot of fun. Our drummer for the soul shows was Hunt Sales who played with greats like Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Todd Rundgren. My first exposure to El Vez was when my burlesque troupe, The Atomic Bombshells, opened for his Christmas show in Seattle at the Showbox. I was sooo enchanted I basically harassed him until he gave me the gig. I think I got his email or something and wrote him every few weeks and stars aligned to where I kept running into him. I’d say in my coyest (give me the damn gig) possible voice “you know, if you ever need another Elvette…” Finally he relented. I’ve been performing with El Vez since 2004. Some of the best times of my entire life have been singing on the road with our band the Memphis Mariachis. The most incredible time I had on the road with El Vez was when we played the Crossroads Music Festival in Gijon, Spain with Little Richard, The Blasters, The Presidents of the United States Of America and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. All the bands stayed in the same four star hotel; lots of mischief ensued. One night we played spin the bottle on the roof top. I wrote a little song up there that evolved into a track on the next President’s record. My version was pretty emo, but Chris doctored it up in pop as only he can. Spain with The Presidents led to more collaborations including the Capitol Hill Block Party and a music video for a song called Some Postman. It was the first music video shot completely on cell phones. Technologically speaking, it was a pretty big deal at the time. We made a behind the scenes DVD with an Australian film company in support of their upcoming tour. Then in a worst move ever I quit perusing the offer to go with them to Australia and stayed in Seattle to work toward my master’s degree in theatre only to embark on my journey as a full time artist mere months later. Bye bye, Seattle U. Never got the degree.
Q: On that note, I’d like to discuss your background. You’re a singer, a burlesque performer, a model and a yoga instructor. Did I miss anything? How did you get your start in each of those areas? Do all of these elements blend together to equate a full time job for you? Or do you also miraculously balance another job on top of all of that?
A: My mother swears I came out of the womb singing and tap dancing. I used to take off all my clothes in the backseat as a kid and jump around the moving car. I performed my one-woman-show at Kmart near the blue light to reach the largest audience possible. I auditioned for anything and everything I could. At age eight I was an extra in Robocop 2. My uncle Paul and I threw hot dog buns and Nerds at the cops in our scene in the movie. As I approached double digits I became obsessed with Hollywood glamour, movie musicals, musical theatre, all forms of dance, vintage clothing and home furnishings but the most mystifying and alluring fascination of my young mind was sex appeal.
I’ve not had a “day job” since I quit my makeup artist gig with Benefit Cosmetics in 2004. Thoughts become reality and I was ready to create a reality where I was a successful international entertainer.
Yoga is my daily moving meditation. It helps to center me and maintain spiritual connection with my community and the cosmos. I’m a certified hot yoga instructor (250 sweaty hours) worth every pain, ache and dime.
Currently I teach power yoga which is a crazy hard workout that has more mass appeal to westerners, and a vinyasa yoga inspired by Patanjali’s yoga sutras. I really prefer to gift these styles of classes. Traditional yoga is something I enjoy sharing. Creating a space for people to have a transformative, healing experience is absolutely amazing. I find teaching class more rewarding than a sold out, standing room only crowd cheering on your every move. While living in the Minneapolis area in 2012 I brought yoga into Pride, one of the only GLBTQ treatment facilities in the world as a weekly volunteer. Talk about a heartwarming experience. But a gal’s gotta pay the bills… So I took my power yoga knowledge, classical dance educator and burly teacher background and created a fusion workshop called Yogatease. I teach Yogatease all around the world and am currently working with an investor who thinks it’s a multimillion dollar idea.
When I’m home in Portland I work for the Rose City School of Burlesque as the dance and movement teacher.
I’m also a pin up model. Bettina May and Go Go Amy took me under their proverbial pin up wing in 2006 and we developed a workshop which traveled to Portugal, France, Germany, Canada and all over the US. Now I teach classes to spread the gospel of high hair and ruby lips solo. I’ve had a few prestigious modeling gigs. I was chosen for PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur” campaign in connection with Suicide Girls. Most recently I became the face of Slappy Cakes- a DIY pancake house with locations in Tokyo, Singapore (Universal Studios), Maui, five locations in Manila and the original in Portland, Oregon. Last spring Slappy Cakes flew me to the Philippines for the grand opening in the third largest mall in the world. There were life-size cardboard cut outs and floor to ceiling posters of me everywhere. It was totally surreal.
Q: Speaking of travel, you just returned from a tour of Italy and Finland! Please tell our readers all about it!
A: Earlier this year I was selected to join an erotic circus for an event called Turkkusex. It boasts being the largest ‘sexfest’ in Scandinavia. Our Portland based cast was joined by a bevy of porn stars, male strippers from Russia and beyond and champion pole dancers from around the globe. One of my very best friends, Ivizia actually blew fire balls in a blinged out bikini inside a metal sphere with two Finnish motorcycle riders whizzing past her. Then my friends bought me tickets to Italy and insisted we go ‘make party’.
Q: From whom or what do you gather your inspiration?
A: I have no idea where my ideas or inspiration come from. Most often if I’m writing a show or creating a character I hear a piece of music and go from there, but all burlesque is derivative. No one has any original ideas anymore. I’m just a crazy, lunatic drag queen. I am certainly not the best at anything I do, I’m just not afraid to try new things and fail horrifically.
Q: What’s next for Tana the Tattooed Lady?
A: This year in addition to Miss Tiki O, I was voted Hardest Working Woman in Show Business (according to Portland) and I won the Satan’s Angel Award for Hottest Body In Burlesque at the Dallas Burlesque Festival. Every time I think I’m about to slow down another amazing opportunity turns up. I have no idea what’s in store for me and I’m thankful for the mystery. My life has turned out to be better than my wildest dreams.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Thank you for this opportunity!
Hawaii’s Burlesque Sweetheart, Violetta Beretta, talks Tiki, Hawaii Burlesque Fest, and Oscar Wilde.
By: Shoshana Portnoy
Q: It stands to reason our chosen names would say more about us than our given ones. Yours is quite unusual; would you give us the backstory on your choice?
Of course! My original Burlesque name was “Honey Lulu”. I like that it sounded like a sweet little tribute to my island home but after a few shows I decided it didn’t quite capture what I was looking to convey. I looked around for a bit for things and names that hit the mark and was super happy to hear the words “Violetta Beretta” in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs/bands- Gogol Bordello. I chose my stage name because I loved the old world prettiness of Violetta, contrasted with the make of a gun- Beretta. It’s cool being able to convey feminine beauty or explosive energy onstage and feel that the contradictory nature of the name gives me the license to portray a total weirdo, pretty lady, or whatever suits my fancy.
Q: I first heard that Hawaii had a burlesque scene when I saw the announcement for the Hawaii Burlesque Festival last year. I surprised to learn through my research that you have actually been performing for seven years now. Was Cherry Blossom Cabaret the first to kick off the revival of burlesque on the islands? Can you give us a brief “lay of the land” of the burlesque world as you know it on the Hawaiian Islands?
I’d love to! How much time do we have? Here’s a brief breakdown:
The Hawaii Burlesque Festival is now in its third year and I am super happy to hear that you were able to learn about Hawaii’s burlesque scene through hearing about the festival! I began the festival in order to showcase the talents of our amazing local performers, and to foster growth and exchange in our burlesque scene by inviting international and US Mainland performers to attend, perform, hang out, and enjoy the beauty of Hawaii! The HBF is also on a mission to bring out the best of the best in burlesque to Hawaii audiences, and contribute to Hawaii’s artistic community by offering free workshops and classes to anyone interested during the festival week. It’s been extremely successful in all of its ventures and now the HBF is growing to include not one, but two nights of star-studded performances by some of the top names in burlesque internationally and locally, as well as workshops and group activities! I’m very interested in showcasing some of the performers and troupes from Maui, the big island (Hawaii), and Kauai for this upcoming year and I am looking forward to announcing the mind-blowing line-up soon!
Cherry Blossom Cabaret, to my knowledge, was the first burlesque troupe in the Hawaiian Islands. It was started by my burlesque wife, Meghan Mayhem, and we’ve all been twirling our tassels together ever since. CBC is an amazing collection of performers with all kinds of skills from acting to visual arts and everything in between. Everyone in the troupe has something distinct to bring to the table. Our annual “Varietease” is probably our biggest accomplishment because we work super hard to present an original full length theatrical show complete with original story, script, music, choreography, and costumes. We also have several monthly shows that are really fun! I suggest checking them out if you haven’t already!
Maui is also host to several talented folks/troupes. The Kit Kat Club Cabaret is one of them! They are wonderful performers and dancers, and have very popular and regular shows. I love working with them and they are probably the sweetest women on Earth! My pal Rachel Deboer also heads up another troupe called the Ultraviolets, an outstanding blacklight burlesque troupe that recently finished a successful US tour.
I’ve heard that Kauai [one of the smallest islands] now has a troupe by the name of Black Coral Burlesque! I believe we are in the process of setting up a joint show with them and I look forward to learning more about these lovelies from the Garden Isle!
That’s just a brief lowdown…. So many great performers on the islands in general!
Q: Many of us developed our own local scenes by watching other scenes around us. It was from official or unofficial mentors that we learned even the basics of developing a quality act, building a great show line-up and structure, marketing basics- everything that goes into a quality burlesque production. With the geographic isolation of Hawaii and the cost of travel, I imagine seeing other live shows (either mainland U.S. or Japan) would prove challenging. What were those early days of developing a scene like? Did you have anything to go on or were you starting from scratch?
Great Question! It’s easier for me to answer this question on an individual basis first. As part of Cherry Blossom Cabaret and a solo performer of some experience I’ve definitely dealt with both the benefits and the drawbacks of Hawaii’s unique geographic situation. The benefits are the lack of over-saturation, a climate of expression that allows for the formation of ideas without the possible pressure of comparison to other performers or “scenes” and Hawaii’s overall laid back nature and a propensity for tolerance and fun! The drawbacks include of course- the expense of travel, the time necessary to travel, the expense of bringing in non-local performers, and the limited audience. That said, as a local girl, born and raised in Hawaii, the benefits of living in a literal paradise often outweigh the drawbacks!
I’ve always made a serious effort to not only research and learn about both the burlesque legends and the contemporary neo-burlesque scene, and attend US Mainland events like Teaso-O-Rama, etc in order to better understand not only the nature of burlesque, but the community and intent behind it. I came from a very traditional ballet background originally, and though my dance career since then has been in a broader range, I’ve always had a semi-technical approach to learning about movement and dance, which is why I enjoy the emotional part of burlesque so much. I was fascinated by the history of burlesque, the societal reactions, the sexual implications, and of course- the glamour and beauty of it all. As I traveled to perform 9and to watch any burly-q shows I could) I began to get a sense of what I felt worked well, what didn’t, and how I’d like to entertain the audience in general.
Classes have also been a good way for me to learn some amazing things! I had an excellent time with Coco Lectric at her “Big Bad Boa” workshop class during the Hawaii Burlesque Festival and came away with some good basic boa skills- Coco is amazing!
Being able to watch and perform with those in LA, NYC,Portland, etc has also been an amazing experience for me personally in terms of growth as a performer! There are too many talented and outstanding performers to name so I’m not gonna try, but it’s a long and interesting list! I’m super excited to be attending and instructing at BurlyCon 2013 and I can’t wait to learn from my sisters in arms/pasties!
In terms of Cherry Blossom Cabaret, and the overall Hawaii burlesque scene; I feel that our origins were a great convergence of people/performers of various backgrounds and expertise in the right place at the right time. Every single person in CBC has contributed to our growth in their own unique way. Although Hawaii may seems isolated, we are also very well connected to the outside world via technology. There is also a constant stream of returning locals, new residents, and visitors bringing new ideas to the island. It’s really cool to think of how much Cherry Blossom has grown and learned over the years thanks to the worldwide burlesque community, visiting performers, and vast amounts of reference material.
Q: By the same expensive travel token, year one of the festival was dedicated to local performers, but in year two, you had quite a few performers from neighboring islands and the Mainland. Were there extra challenges the location presented?
Performers traveling from the neighbor islands have a bit of an additional expense in terms of airlift and housing, however, the festival is definitely working to alleviate some of the costs with fundraisers and volunteer housing from trusted sources.
U.S. Mainland and international performers present a unique set of challenges in terms of expense, however it’s not too hard to convince people to come to Hawaii, and I am a resourceful ecdysiast.
Q: Please correct me if you feel differently, but in my experience on Kauai, native Hawaiians are very proud and protective of the authentic culture of Hawaii. Did you catch any flack when you began incorporating hula into your burlesque acts? What about with your signature hula lamp act? Would a non-native Hawaiian performer trying to incorporate hula have a different experience?
Because there is such a legacy of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Hawaiian culture and history in general and because the issues of cultural censorship, religious freedom, imperialism and Hawaiian sovereignty are so sensitive overall as well as personal to me as a native Hawaiian, I’m not comfortable answering this question. Please know that this is absolutely nothing personal, I’m just very protective of how and when I share my personal mana’o on this subject.
Q: In that same vein, “Tiki Culture” tends to be a huge part of the Mainland pin-up/burlesque/rockabilly scene, especially on the West Coast. What most mainlanders think of as Hawaiian, can be a touchy subject for native Hawaiians. How do you feel when walking the line between the two worlds, perhaps with your recent performances at Tiki Oasis?
Wow- Interesting Question! I love attending and performing at Tiki Oasis, and I always appreciate the love of “tiki tribe” shows for all things Polynesian in general. Most of the folks I’ve gotten to know in that subculture express genuine interest in a myriad of aspects of Hawaiian and Polynesian culture and are really into learning and preserving the tiki subculture, as well as legitimate Polynesian culture for others to enjoy, which I think is admirable! The origin of tiki culture itself is most interesting to me in the sense that it was essentially born out of visitors love of Hawaiian culture/design/motifs, and the trappings (however garish) of our local tourism culture, especially in the 60’s. Basically I feel that the representation of Hawaii within tiki culture can be at worst somewhat willfully ignorant of the realities of Hawaiian culture/life, both historically and presently. At best, it is a fun and imaginative whirlwind of ideas/cultures inspired by people who truly loved and enjoyed Hawaii, but had little to go on when they got back home, say to Ohio. Necessity being the mother of all invention, tiki culture was born from the pieces of Hawaii salvaged from vacations, knick knacks, recipes and photos, and many a backyard was strewn with flower lei and populated with Aloha shirts when America went crazy for the luau. In short, as a native Hawaiian, I celebrate my culture and heritage, and enjoy sharing them with other people as long as I feel the intent is positive, and not willfully exploitative or degrading. I also welcome the chance to educate people who might not be familiar with Hawaii, it’s history, or why it’s flipping amazing!
Q: Let’s switch gears into something lighter, and one of my favorite questions to ask of anyone. If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who do you choose and why?
Oscar Wilde- His wit and charm were utterly, devastatingly, rapier sharp and he was known as a brilliant conversationalist.
Mae West- No explanation needed.
My grandmother- Because she was awesome and I love her.
Q: What does the future hold for Violetta Beretta? What are your goals for 2014?
Beloved Emcee and costume goddess Cora Vette, owner of Denver’s one stop burlesque shop VaVa Vette, gives us the lowdown on how to create your own custom fashions.
This DIY will focus on constructing a male g-string. You’re welcome…photos to follow…
I run a male burlesque troupe called Cora Vette’s Hot Rods. We recently opened a new show in Denver and I found myself needing to make some more costumes for the guys. So, I thought, why not share with the Pin Curl readers something different? Penis pouches!
When I first started working with the guys a while back, I really didn’t know where to start. It’s easy to go to the store, buy and embellish something if you are a woman…at least as a starting off point when you’re a beginner in burlesque. But, for men it’s not so easy. Since I make most everything for both the VaVaVettes and the Hot Rods I was looking for something more interesting. But, I digress…
I asked one of the guys to go out and get a pair of underwear that he liked, bring it to me, and I’d decorate it. He came back with a pair of fancy designer ones that cost a small fortune. Problem was, that even though they were expensive…they still just looked like underwear. Then, I spent lots of time with his underwear…and started to have an idea. Ha!
I’d figure out how to make them myself. And, I did.
Cut a 7 inch square of stretch fabric. Easy right? This can be made bigger or smaller according to your needs. Heehee. (I’m just having fun now.)
Fold it in half with right sides together.
Stitch along FOLDED edge very close to the fold. Gradually, curve the stitching at the last couple of inches. Remember to use a stretch stitch or a zigzag stitch.
Trim edge close to the stitching.
On the wrong side fold raw seam to one side and sew that down. You know, for comfort and all.
Turn under and finish the edges of the pouch.
Cut 3 elastic pieces. One piece your hip measurement minus one inch, one 10.5″, the other 5.5 inches. All of these measurements are give or take and adjustable for your comfort. These measurements work as a baseline for my guys and fittings would be…awkward.
Sew the ends of the waistband together, mark the center and sew the pouch top to the underside of the waistband.
At the center back, mark and pin the 10.5″ elastic on either side of the center back. I use 4.5″ on either side of the center back as a good measurement. This way it has some slack in the elastic and creates a nice butt accent. Sew.
Find center of 10.5″ elastic and pin one end of the 5.5″ elastic to the center, then, pin the other end to the bottom seam of the penis pouch. Sew.
Voila! A male version of a g-string! You can skip the 10.5 inch elastic piece if you like and just make the other piece longer…but I like the way the extra piece frames the tush myself.
So there you have it. A man’s teeny tiny g-string for you to decorate any way you like! Again, You’re welcome…I do it because I care.
Xoxo Cora Vette
Want more DIY with Cora? Check out her work here: DIY Tearaway Pants, DIY Rockabilly Headwrap, Cora Vette & the VaVaVettes: The Biggest DIY Ever!, DIY Zippers, DIY Dye, DIY Gauntlet Gloves, DIY Shrug, DIY Shimmy Belt, DIY G-String, Buying Vintage Patterns, DIY Pencil Skirt
We here at Pin Curl are making our very first journey to BurlyCon this month and we couldn’t be more excited! If you’re like us, you’re probably super excited but also a little overwhelmed by all the information, activities and FUN in your near future. So a gal (or guy!) has gotta plan, right? We decided to put together a handy dandy guide for all you first-timers out there to make navigating BurlyCon 2013 even easier!
This can be nightmarish for some of us habitual overpackers – (ahem, me) but I digress. BurlyCon offers the following suggested packing list, which will be super helpful while trying to talk myself out of bringing everything I own.
Probably the most important thing to keep in mind is that according to BurlyCon, the event “is intended to be a weekend ‘off’ from show mode so be sure to dress for comfort! If you think you’ll need a glamour fix be sure to pack accordingly.” So no, you probably don’t need 4 of your most over-the-top outfits per day like you might at BHOF (unless that’s just how you roll; then go on with your bad self!) Here is the sample suggested packing list from BurlyCon’s email list:
- Comfortable clothing – think yoga pants!
- Comfortable shoes
- Dance wear for classes
- Character/dance/tap shoes for classes
- Warmer layers, jacket, raincoat/umbrella (Seattle in November – it’s going to be cold and rainy!)
- High Heels
- Swimsuit (pool and hot tub at the hotel!)
- A robe (to wear over revealing outfits in public hotel spaces)
You’ll also want to pack for any of the special events that you plan to attend.
Thursday Night: Vintage Meet & Greet
Bring your favorite vintage outfit for this annual mix & mingle time!
Friday Night: Class Photo!
Come ready to party at BURLYPROM for your Class of 2013 BurlyCon photo!
Friday Night: BURLYPROM!
Wear your dream burlesque prom inspired outfit!
Saturday Night: BurlyCon Movie Night
Fabulous and comfortable pajamas are suggested!
Extra Stuff to Bring:
- Hair accessories
- Notebook for classes
- Business cards/promo
- Cash for vendors
New BurlyCon Guidebook App
Next, for navigating your trip while you’re there, the fine folks at BurlyCon created a fabulous app this year for all you tech-savvy burlesquers! You can access the entire class schedule, vendor information, maps, local food & shopping locations, presenter information and more all in one easy to access location! Click here to download the app and access BurlyCon’s schedule on your smart phone.
The non-mobile online version is also available, so even if you don’t have a smart phone, you can still keep up with everything by clicking here.
If you happen to make it into Seattle early, we highly recommend this show, Foxy Tann‘s Afrodisiac, featuring The Luminous Pariah, Sydni Deveraux, Jeez Loueez, RedBone, and more! According to our friend and Seattle local Sydni Deveraux, you can take the train from the convention hotel to the venue for fairly cheap!
If you don’t have full days of classes, we’re jealous if you get to go to this. It’s at Goodwill. It’s called a Glitter sale(!!!) and they’re supposed to be selling “all that is glitzy and glamorous” (think gowns, accessories, jewelry, what have you.) We may have just ruined a Seattle secret stash… Sorry Seattle locals! This looked too good not to share! Go my friends, and get your glitter fix!
And last but definitely not least, don’t forget to re-read Sydni’s Showgirl’s Guide to Seattle, in which she dishes on all the hot spots in town for food, drinks, shows, shopping and more!
Do you have other fabulous BurlyCon tips, packing suggestions or Seattle spots you’d like to share? Comment below! We’ll see you there! Come say hi!
Chicago’s Michelle L’amour, Burlesque Hall of Fame Miss Exotic World 2005, known as “The Most Naked Woman” and “The Ass That Goes POW!” talks BurlyCon, family, focusing on the luxury of burlesque and more.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You have extensive dance experience, and after meeting Franky Vivid while studying finance in college, you began performing with his band, followed by your first burlesque performance in February 2003. You quickly went on to win Burlesque Hall of Fame’s Miss Exotic World title in 2005, which effectively put you (and subsequently Chicago) on the map, and there’s been no slowing down since! Would Michelle in 2003 be surprised by where you are in 2013? If 2013 Michelle could offer pre-2003 Michelle any advice, what would it be?
A: 2003 Michelle was too young! Seriously, sometimes I look back and cringe at those pictures. I look like a kid! A stripping kid! I wish that 2013 ml’ could tell pre-2003 ml’ to get better shoes. My taste in heels has really developed since then! I would also tell her to relax! I was coming from a dance background and I don’t think I fully appreciated the beauty and nuance of burlesque striptease until I had been doing it for a couple years. It’s not just about technique. It’s about so much more. It’s a different art form all together and I am still constantly learning and falling in love with this dance. And no, 2003 ml’ would not be surprised where I am now. This is all part of the plan…
Q: I’ve read in multiple interviews that you come from a conservative Christian family that disapproves of your career choice and has disowned you, multiple times even? I’ve spoken to several other performers and models that can really identify with this notion; are you able to offer any advice to those who are dealing with similar negative family reception of their careers?
A: It is hard for your family to see you as sexual, but it might be even harder for them to see you as independent. When you combine the two, it’s a winning combination for conservative families. I was disowned from my family when it came out in the paper that I was doing burlesque. Bibles came out. Scripture was flying. It ended with them leading me to the door and saying ‘God loves you enough for us to let you go.’ Swallow that one. I had a really difficult time going through this. I was experiencing great success and receiving so many accolades but it was hard to parse because I knew my own family didn’t care, didn’t know, and didn’t appreciate it. As independent and strong willed as you think you are, there will always be a part of you that just wants to be accepted by your family. I struggled with this separation for almost 4 years. It was tough on me and tough on my relationship. One day, after I had cried too many tears, I made peace with it. Truly accepted it. A little while after that, my mother called me and wanted to meet with me. As you can imagine, I was very skeptical. I decided to give her a chance. I met with her and she apologized to me! I was NOT expecting that. I decided to forgive her and cautiously allowed her into my life. We’re coming up on 4 years of our new relationship and while she may not like what I do, she is proud of me and always says she wishes she could do what I do. She has seen me perform once (my Sally Rand tribute), and has taken one of my classes. My mother is my biggest project. Helping women is what I do, and she was always the one I couldn’t help…until now. Unfortunately, my relationship with my dad is still strained. We talk but it’s very superficial and he really doesn’t want to talk about what I do. And, what seems to be surprising to people on the outside, my parents are recently divorced. This is actually a wonderful thing and should have happened many years ago. Religion can really put you in bad spots for a long time. Guilt is a powerful motivator.
To those that might be in a similar situation, if you are doing something you truly love to do, keep doing it. If you are just acting out, stop it right now. Entertainers that have a chip on their shoulder do not last. You need to do what you do because you love it, not because you’re trying to prove something to the world or to your parents.
Q: You’re performing in the Dirty Devil’s Peep Show at Theatre Bizarre in Detroit this month, which is produced by Roxi D’Lite in a huge Masonic temple; what do you have in store and what are you looking forward to most?
A: Honestly, I’m terrified! I get scared really easily and I am so nervous about it. Roxi has been trying to get me to go for YEARS! I finally accepted, but man, am I shakin’ in my pasties. I will be performing La Panthere, Boa Tango, Whole Lotta L’amour and Stripping Away, a dance that just has me in elastic and high heeled boots dancing to NIN. That one doesn’t get out much but I am SUPER excited to perform that act.
Q: The end of October will be bringing you back to Lucha Va Voom in LA, and you’ll be teaching workshops as well. You’ve been working with Lucha Va Voom for many years, correct? What are some of your favorite memories or stories?
A: I LOVE Lucha Va Voom. I think I’ve been working with them since 2004. I’m really excited to go in October because I am bringing my newest act, ‘The Ritual Calling of the Gods of F*ck’. It’s epic and really raw. I think it will feel great in that venue. As for memories, what can I say? There are wrestlers all over the place and then there are mini-chicken wrestlers running around too. Backstage is exactly what you think it is. Mayhem!
Q: You’re a guest presenter at BurlyCon this year, and it looks like Tease and Tone, Booty Lab and Stripping Behind the Fans are on your teaching agenda. I’d love to hear about highlights from your past BurlyCon experience and what you’re expecting out of this year’s event.
A: I haven’t been to BC in 2 years, so it’ll be good to go back. I’m excited about teaching all the classes and to see everyone. It’s good to be able to just hang out with people and not worry about a show. I also like being able to go take other classes and participate in discussions and panels. There’s so much to talk about in burlesque and this is the place to do it.
Q: Studio L’amour celebrated its 5th anniversary this summer; congratulations! How have things evolved over the years? Did you imagine the studio would be where it is now five years ago?
A: The studio is still evolving. I’m currently in the middle of making some big changes. I want to focus on the luxury of burlesque. I want people to see the value in what they are learning and know they are learning from VERY qualified teachers. I am sad to see many people teaching who have no business leading a class. This is upsetting and it’s taking advantage of the public. I am not ok with this. I also see Groupon deals, etc, and I will not become a discount-dollar-bin-bargain-burlesque school or entertainer. No thank you. The game has changed greatly since I began doing burlesque and teaching. I’m now writing a new rule book.
Q: Naked Girls Reading also turned 5 years old this year, and it has been expanding like crazy! You must be so excited to see it growing! Are you surprised by how quickly it’s caught on and to how many locations it’s spread already? Any more expansion plans in the near future? Any other exciting NGR plans in the works?
A: I love Naked Girls Reading and I love that we’ve been able to do it for this long. It’s a beautiful event and I love that other cities are excited about it. I really wasn’t expecting that, but once people started asking to do it, we decided it would be a great thing to expand. Currently in the works are some chapters looking to open in Australia.
Q: It’s very well known that Franky and you are foodies, especially with the Cooking for Strippers column and all! What is your favorite thing (or things if you can’t pick just one!) to cook? What are your favorite things to eat that Franky cooks?
A: I wouldn’t say that we are foodies, necessarily. We just really like to eat and we appreciate REAL food. Eating should be a sensual experience and not just a means to an end. I used to do all the cooking and then Franky got into it. I am more than happy to let him cook for me! So, by default, I’ve become more of the baker and he’s the cook. I make homemade bread and it’s SO good. I make a great cinnamon swirl bread and French bread. Oh, and I make a bacon alfredo pizza. It’s so bad for you. We only have it once a year on Franky’s birthday. As for what I like to eat…Franky makes a great maple butter pork tenderloin with smashed potatoes. He’s also got a mean brisket.
Q: What’s next for Michelle L’amour?
A: Next is enforcing my new life plan. I plan to do a lot more traveling and embark on a teaching tour in 2014. Overall, I’m looking to feed myself more as an artist and personally. I’ve been too distracted as of late and I need to start focusing on myself, rather than just trying to pay the bills.
Keep up with Michelle through her website, www.michellelamour.com, and follow her on Twitter at @michelle_lamour for the latest information.
Seattle’s Iva Handfull, 2013 Queen of the Kansas City Burlesque Festival, talks musicality, fierceness, impersonations, BurlyCon, accounting, Prince and more.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re known for your fierce, edgy and high energy performance style and every time I see you onstage I wonder about your background. You started performing burlesque in 2007 after graduating from Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque, but I’d love to know more about the creation of the Iva we know today. Do you have background in theater? Dance? What led to you enrolling in the academy?
A: I have no formal dance training, unless you count the year of dance classes I took when I was around 13. I’ve just always loved to dance. In high school, I was in Marine Corps Junior ROTC where I convinced them to have a dance-a-thon as a fundraiser, where people donated money based on how many hours we’d dance. Ever since I could sneak into nightclubs, I’d arrive right when they opened and dance until they closed. Often, there’d be a few people along the sides of the dance floor watching me dance. I believe my “hamness” came from my grandfather, Hubcap Charlie. He performed around Northwest Indiana with the Knights of Columbus, singing, pantomiming, clogging, and dancing at nursing homes, festivals, and parades.
I only want to be me on stage and perform what I want to, so theater hasn’t been of interest to me. I’ve never been in a troupe – the thought never even crossed my mind, although I’m an ancillary member of Stripped Screw Burlesque, since our styles are similar and they lovingly allow me to guest in their shows often. I will only dance to music I love and create acts that I’d love to perform for decades to come. I would say that when I’m on stage, it’s me put to a soundtrack. Many people are surprised by how quiet or subdued I am off stage. It’s because there’s no soundtrack playing!
I think the fierceness and high energy on stage comes from my love of Industrial music (pre-Goth). Industrial music mixed rock, electronics, screaming, angst (although I’m not an angry person), and sometimes hip hop and/or dance beats. Industrial fashion was very individualist, unlike Goth (at least to me). This genre of music is still at the core of my being. Musicality is of the utmost importance to me. Hitting beats and keeping up with the song tempo is second nature. As part of my subconscious, I think of my acts as a music video for the song; and when I’m on stage I feel like a rock star. In fact recently, I’ve found myself sort of standing on the edge of the stage, leaning out toward the audience, as rock stars often do. I try as hard as I can to blanket the audience with energy.
I learned about Burlesque and Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque at the first Burlesque show I saw in Seattle, WA – Tamara the Trapeze Lady’s Columbia City Cabaret, entertained by performers like Tamara the Trapeze Lady and Chica Boom. I sat on the edge of my seat the entire show, dying to know how to get involved in this art form. I checked in with the door person, Pidgeon Von Tramp, and she told me about the Academy of Burlesque. I signed up for the next 6-week Burlesque 101 course, which started on my birthday!
Q: I’m very curious to know about your process of developing an act from start to finish. Your movements always seem so precise and calculated, yet you balance it perfectly with your high energy so you never seem robotic. How do you achieve this balance?
A: I think the high energy, precise, and calculated movements come from my musicality and love of spreadsheets and detail. Once I’ve chosen a song and concept (most of my concepts lately have been to just dance the hell out of a song), I open a fresh Excel spreadsheet, copy the song lyrics from an Internet search, and begin breaking the song down generally to each beat or lyric. I record the start and stop time (ex: 0:01 – 0:10) of each beat, lyric, or small section of the song, the feel of the music at that section (ex: fast, hard, slow, breakdown), and the corresponding lyric and/or music sound.
As I mentioned prior, I will always follow the feel of the music and think of myself as creating a music video for the song. After I have an idea of the act, or sometimes before I have any idea of the act I want to create, I meet with my costumer Jamie Von Stratton. We search through high fashion magazines, couture fashion designer books, and runway videos for costume inspiration. I find the coolest way to show off and eventually take off the costume by looking at all angles and movements I can make while wearing the costume. Between removing costume pieces, I throw in ways to interpret how the song feels to me, as well as 10-30 seconds of what we call “Iva dancing” which is how I would dance to the song at a night club. In the spreadsheet, I also record each body part’s movement and sections of the act that need specific facial expressions. Since I’m fairly androgynous, I tend to lean toward male stripper moves instead of traditionally female sensual moves, for example in my “Relax” Marlboro Woman cowboy act. I still feel totally feminine on stage, but to me traditionally male moves are way more fun to execute and work better with the songs I love. Following that theme of “individualism”, I sometimes take private lessons from other performers for their feedback, ideas on how to fill in blank spots in choreography, interpret a portion of the song, or learn a technique I’m not familiar with. I do not take group classes, as I don’t remember what I learned and I’d just be taking notes the whole time (you’ll see me taking tons of notes during group classes at BurlyCon). In order to really get my creative juices flowing, I have to work under time constraints and usually finish the act from between a few days and one day before the show I plan to perform it in. I am now very self-aware of this and warn show producers.
Q: Your performance repertoire is one of the most versatile I’ve seen; your unconventional fan dances to Firestarter and Psalm 69 are crowd favorites, your burlesque “impersonation” acts include Prince, Annie Lennox, David Bowie and more, and you also have a number of nerdlesque acts including a hilarious Napoleon Dynamite impersonation, Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur, Spike from Buffy, and many more. Were many of these acts created to fit a show with a specific theme or based on some other inspiration?
A: Most acts are not created with a show in mind. My signature number, Firestarter, was created based on the idea that this song by Prodigy felt like it should be performed with fans. The only way to exert as much energy and strength the song holds seemed to be through fans. Psalm 69 was similar; listening to the flow of the music, it feels to me like it should be performed with fans. One key fan dance lesson I learned from The Shanghai Pearl is to use the fans as an extension of my hands. That’s exactly what I do.
I usually shy away from themed shows unless I already have an act that fits; because in general, I won’t create an act for other people’s ideas or a theme that’s too specific where I cannot perform it elsewhere. But there are exceptions (there are always exceptions)! For example, Stripped Screw Burlesque asked me to create a Cruella de Vil act for their annual Disney After Dark Burlesque shows, that was a no-brainer. Science & Smooches Productions produce an annual fundraiser show for Seattle’s Geekgirlcon, a show centered around video games. One of the producers, Steven Stone, said that I looked like and had the energy of Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur. I watched him and my husband play the game and decided it would be a cool act to create. I created the act in a way where I could perform it at just about any burlesque show and market it as a general video game character act and most of the audience would understand it. Jo Jo Stiletto produces Whedonesque Burlesque and asked me to perform an act as Spike from Buffy. After watching hours of Buffy, I decided I would take on this challenge and create the act. My Spike act is the only act I don’t think I can perform at just any burlesque show, as a general audience might not understand who I am and what the significance of my movements are.
I have grown quite a repertoire of impersonations – Prince, Annie Lennox, Billy Idol, David Bowie, Cruella de Vil, Napoleon Dynamite, Spike, and Ivy Valentine. Impersonations are so fun to me and are just as hard to create as a regular Burlesque act. Above, I’ve mentioned individualism over and over and honestly, this still stays with me when I impersonate people. There’s always a part of me on stage with the artist I’m impersonating. Regarding specific impersonations, I always say “who doesn’t want to be Prince?” I mean really? He’s such his own being, and it’s so exciting to replicate his moves. It took me 8 hours to learn Napoleon Dynamite’s 2-minute routine. Annie Lennox and Billy Idol are no brainers to pull from my personal look and style. People have asked me to impersonate David Bowie for years and I’ve always said no, until recently when I teamed up with Ernie Von Schmaltz as Freddie Mercury in a duet to “Under Pressure”. It’s extremely important to choose people to impersonate who are entertaining on stage and have signature moves. David Bowie is entertaining, but he really doesn’t “do” anything on stage, he doesn’t need to because he’s just that cool. So, I thought the only way to impersonate David Bowie, without boring the audience after about a minute because I’m just standing there lip syncing, was a duet as David where I could interact with another performer. Our duet came so naturally and was a huge hit!
Q: Just this year you were crowned Queen of the Kansas City Burlesque Festival – congratulations! What act did you perform? What were some of your favorite memories from the event?
A: I performed my Firestarter fan dance. I hadn’t submitted it specifically to perform in the competition but that’s where the show producers placed the act, and I was lucky they did. We didn’t know what the judges were scoring us on, but we learned of those categories after we performed. If I remember correctly, at least two were stage presence and costume, but I don’t remember the others.
As when competing for Best Debut at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, when I compete, I try not to think of it as a competition. My goal always is to entertain the audience and that’s what I strive to do.
Before I discuss the festival itself, I want to explain why I came to Kansas City in the first place. During BurlyCon, I meet awesome people from around the country and world. Two performers who stood out as amazing human beings were Sweet Louise and Goldie Goldstein from Kansas City. They do not produce and aren’t specifically part of the Kansas City Burlesque Festival, but they are 100% the reason I came to Kansas City. They are the nicest, most welcoming, ladies you could ever meet. Talk about the power of awesome people to draw you to a city!
Some of my favorite memories of the event are from both the festival itself and exploring Kansas City. I watched Burlesque Legend and actress Stephanie Blake perform and was blown away! She can get up from the floor through a backbend! She was one of the Queen competition judges and I was tickled pink to be judged by the woman who played the naughty singing telegram nurse from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. On Friday night, I saw Lady Jack from Chicago, one of the festival headliners, perform a beautiful serpentine number that made my jaw drop to the floor. I immediately asked her to come to Seattle to perform in Seraphina Fiero and I’s annual two-woman show called Relentless. I met Dangrrr Doll from New York and we are now friends. I also love having Damian Blake as King of the festival. Venturing around the city, I spent a day with Xander Lovecraft from St. Louis shopping for jumpsuits, vintage neckties, and eating Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ. I can’t wait to go back in 2014 to crown the next queen and enjoy the entire event and weekend.
Q: I think many who don’t know you would be surprised to discover that in contrast to your fierce persona, you are a certified public accountant in your day job – a career that sometimes gets a bad rap for being boring. I have to ask – what made you want to pursue being a CPA? Do you find it exciting or is it “just a job”?
A: I loved Accounting in high school. It was fun, involved easy numbers as I like to call them (add, subtract, multiply, divide and not much more), and was methodical while also involved problem solving and detail. After high school, I first went to college for court reporting; but then at 21 years old, decided to attend Indiana University Northwest in Gary, IN for Accounting. I’ve never worked for a large accounting firm and never wanted to and actually didn’t do accounting but went into Finance instead – not the kind of Finance with stocks, interest rates, and etc but the kind where you create financial forecasts and budgets for companies. An easy way to explain the difference between Accounting and Finance is that Accounting looks back at the numbers and records what happened already and Finance usually looks to the future to predict what will happen in the business financially.
I studied and obtained my CPA license just because it looks good on a resume and people seem to trust you more when you are a CPA, although many CPAs don’t actually keep up with their licensure and still use the title. As a Finance Manager, I didn’t need the CPA licensure, but since I’ve changed careers over to Accounting, it’s very helpful to be a CPA and the classes needed to keep an active license are now relevant to my career. Accounting and Finance are exciting to me. I love numbers, I love detail (as you’ve read regarding how I create an act), and I love finding ways to make businesses more money, save money, and grow financially.
Q: Speaking of, congratulations are in order, because I hear you just got job bookkeeping at an art gallery, which means you’re now officially working full-time for the arts! You must be so thrilled! Tell us what this means for you as an artist.
A: If you would have asked me about whether I thought it’d be a goal or it’d be cool to work in the Arts prior to me becoming a Burlesque performer, I’d ask you why that mattered and why is this question even coming up, because I wasn’t part of the arts at all.
Since becoming a Burlesque performer, I have an appreciation for the arts, artists, and how are everyone works so hard to create fresh, exciting ideas and almost never receive raises, health benefits, or bonuses for their efforts, but yet art is extremely important to all parts of society.
Since I started my bookkeeping business in August, I’m now a bookkeeper for a Seattle theater nonprofit, a fine art gallery, specializing in blown glass, an event space, and of course my own burlesque and rhinestone tie business. I love that I’m immersed in art day and night now. It also allows me to not “feel bad” when I need to leave early to get ready for a show or travel for a festival or performance gig. Since I’m hourly as a bookkeeper, it gives me to flexibility to still get my client’s work done and do everything I want to do as a performer and artist.
Q: You’re the co-owner of Haute Under the Collar, which has been selling fabulous rhinestoned ties since 2010. How did you get started and how have things evolved over the years? What are the plans for the future?
A: My friend, and co-owner, Miss Elaine Yes and I started Haute Under the Collar (HUTC) because we noticed a deficiency in raffle prizes and shopping opportunities suited for men, as well as women who dress masculine, at Burlesque shows. We first rhinestoned ties for friends and family members and have since grown it into a business. Haute Under the Collar is now a brand name in the Burlesque community, which is such an honor. We sell not only hand-rhinestoned neckties and bow ties, but also vintage cufflinks and tie bars. We love each tie individually so much that it’s sometimes sad to see them go.
One of our favorite things about this business is receiving tie donations from our clients! We love being able to rhinestone ties they no longer use, then offer these rhinestone ties at a lower price, since the tie was donated, and find them a new home.
We are evolving HUTC by continuously pushing ourselves to create new designs, ask our clients what kind of ties they’d like to see, and create custom orders. Up next for Haute Under the Collar is the January 2014 Offbeat Brides Bridal Expo in Seattle. Also, in 2014, we want to try exhibiting at an accessories or fashion wholesale expo.
Q: It’s well known that you have an affinity for Prince, and this year a monumental life achievement happened in which Prince beckoned you onstage while he was performing and you were dressed in your Prince costume at the time, right? I’d love for our readers to hear the full story.
A: I do have quite the affinity for Prince. He’s such an individual (there’s that word again), no one is like him, or even comes close. He’s a multi-talented artist that lives and breathes music. As mentioned earlier, I love impersonating him because he has such quirky, and of course sexy, facial expressions and dance moves.
Prince put on a set of smaller-venue shows in the spring 2013, which I got tickets for the moment they went on sale. Burlesque has taught me to always be ready, looking my best and never have regrets, so I chose to wear my purple velvet 1984 Prince costume, sparkle painted-on mustache, but leave the wig at home, opting for my regular mohawk. So, here’s the story.
Seraphina Fiero and I stood in line at 5:30, doors opened at 7 pm, so we did not get there that early. The venue’s green room bar was full of people who were there before us, some arriving hours earlier. The green room was supposed to get in before the regular line we were in; but the venue, or Prince’s crew, created an even more preliminary line. As we stood in line, a regular looking guy came up to us asking us about Prince, how many times we’ve seen him in concert, etc. He then gave us some wristbands to get in the preliminary line. Since I’m getting older, I didn’t believe this guy, so one of us stayed in line, while the other asked a bouncer about this “preliminary line”. Finding out that the preliminary line was in fact real, we took our spot as the first people in line.
I ended up being the first person into the entire show, even before people in the green room. We stood right in front of Prince’s mic, about 2 feet away from him, with only an amp between us. We watched him perform as if he was only playing for us. He was so close we could see his makeup in detail and even individual chest hairs. He is phenomenal to stare at for 1 ½ hours straight! He only played about 2 older songs, the rest were newer songs and 60s/70s rock songs; but the entire show was amazing. Prince’s guitar work was magical and so beautiful to experience up close. He had an all-female extremely hot band, who could play like crazy.
At some point in the show, Prince reached his hand down and I slid my hand over his. Then, during the second to the last song, a Jimi Hendrix song that morphed into a jam session, Prince motioned for me to come on stage. Being a performer myself, I wanted to be certain he meant for me to come on stage. I gave him a look to ensure that’s what he meant, and he did it again. I jumped on stage and started busting a move. Since Prince and his band were jamming, I jammed out as well. I always thought that if I were ever on stage with a celebrity musician, I would dance my heart out, instead of standing there dumbfounded while everyone screams at you to do something. Prince was facing the audience, playing guitar, so I just kept dancing. Seraphina said I was up there for about 20-30 seconds. Eventually, I thought it was rude of me to be dancing over on one side of the stage, so I made my way over to Prince. He said something, and I backed away a bit. A bouncer then took me off stage, tried to kick me out, then another bouncer told him Prince had waved me onto stage and I was able to stay. But, that was the end of the concert. I heard that during his 2nd Seattle show, he brought 4 people on stage; so the fact that I was on stage by myself makes the experience that much cooler.
Afterward, tons of people thanked me for jamming out on stage – doing what everyone else wishes they could have done. Outside, tons of people took photos with me, which was cool. The entire night was amazing!
The only regret I have is there are no video or photos, as Prince doesn’t allow photos or video at his concerts. I put out an ad on FB and posted to his fan site asking if anyone had a photo or video, but no luck.
Now it’s time to meet Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (who I always thought would be easier to meet than Prince).
Q: What’s next for Iva Handfull?
A: In November at BurlyCon, I’ll be teaching my first class ever. BurlyCon is a community-oriented professional growth and educational convention for the Burlesque community located in Seattle, WA. I’m teaching “This Class Goes to 11”, how to be fierce on stage. The idea of creating a curriculum and teaching is scary and exciting all at the same time.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Nope, your questions were so good!